Monday, October 28, 2002

I'm happy to see that one of my daily must-reads, The Chronicle of Higher Education, has resurrected another, Arts and Letters Daily. The two are a great fit, and the Chroncile has performed a real service. (And, yes, the Chronicle is a daily read-- online. They make new stories available to subscribers electronically every day, before they end up in the weekly print edition.)

The press release says "The Chronicle acquired Arts & Letters Daily on Thursday, along with the assets of its parent company, which published the magazine Lingua Franca." This is more curious, and I'd very much like to know what assets those include (the Lingua Franca name?), and what plans the Chronicle has for them. On the one hand, the Chronicle might turn out to be the only owner that has the expertise to bring back Lingua Franca in a cost-efficient manner. On the other hand, LF always seemed to me to be thumbing its nose at the Chronicle's serious, balanced, no-nonsense coverage of academe.

Let me be clear: I think that the Chronicle is excellent, and it's excellent in large part because it's careful, thorough, judicious, and fair. It very rarely gets things wrong (unlike, say, the NYT Arts and Ideas page which covers some of the same beat). It understands the difference between what's worth covering and what's not (unlike, say-- oh, hell, just keep filling that phrase in after every bit of praise). And it covers both sides of major stories. It's exemplary of one understanding of what a newspaper should be.

But dishing dirt has its place, too. LF was always a guiltier pleasure than the Chronicle-- but was often more of a pleasure simpliciter. I wonder whether the institutional culture of the Chronicle is too incompatible with the smart-assed former-humanities-grad-students-with-attitude schtick that LF had to do the latter justice. I wonder whether we'll ever hear from any of those other "assets" again...

UPDATE: Jack Shafer reports on the connections between LF and the Boston Globe's smart new "Ideas" section, which has made a real splash already.

On a somewhat-similar note: I'm mostly unable to share in any weeping for the soon-to-be-ended NYT/WaPo collaboration at the International Herald-Tribune. The Post, after all, is the paper that still wheels out the frozen head of Art Rooney-- or is that Andy Buchwald?-- and makes it dictate a column that they then distribute all over the world. In lots of ways I like the Post better than the Times. But the IHT is overpriced and underthick. I've had several stretches when I got it every day, especially when there were baseball standings to keep track of and the local press (in Australia, Hong Kong, Paris...) for some reason didn't care. I gradually gave up, especially when the international USA Today and the appropriate-region Wall Street Journal became appropriate (and when the internet let me find out about the standings.) The Post contributed the comics, I suppose, but when last I looked there were only about a dozen strips and they included Peanuts reprints, Calvin and Hobbes reprints, and the Wizard of Id. I'm guessing they haven't gotten around to adding Boondocks.

If the Times can create a paper that is to its domestic edition as the European or Asian WSJ is to the domestic one, then readers will be much better off. Genteel collaboration had left a paper that wasn't worth the effort.

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